The Forgotten Aspect of Forgiveness

The Biblical story of David and Goliath has been told and re-told a thousand times.

In his best-selling book, Malcolm Gladwell provides a fascinating twist to the tale. We have been told that David is the underdog and Goliath is the favorite. In the end, the underdog overcomes the favorite.

Gladwell says we have this wrong for all of 3,000 years.

David is infantry in those days. His weapon is a sling that has the stopping power of a 45-caliber handgun. He is a master of his craft. And he has faith on his side. He is willing to undertake a mission that no one else wants. He never gets close to Goliath (till he kills Goliath).

Goliath is a monster. Endocrinologists agree that he probably had a rare condition – a tumor on his pituitary that had two consequences – his abnormal size and his blurred vision. He is led on to the battlefield by an assistant – he can’t see! He is great at close combat with a sword but miserable at a distance. He is weighed down by his heavy armor. He urges David to come closer.

From this perspective, David is not the underdog. He is the favorite. There is no way he can lose a battle armed with a deadly sling. Don’t forget – he has God on his side.

This is not an argument that underdogs always win or that favorites always lose.

The point is that to suit our convenience, we often turn advantages into disadvantages and vice versa. Why? Why can’t disadvantages become advantages under the right circumstances? Of course, the converse is equally true.

When CISCO entered the scene, scholars laughed. How could a new entrant (the underdog) take on the leaders at the time – LUCENT and NORTEL?

ALCATEL acquired LUCENT and over time, NOKIA acquired ALCATEL. NORTEL went into bankruptcy. Meanwhile, CISCO is the undisputed leader in networking. Sure, someday, another company may overtake CISCO. That is the nature of life. The new always gives way to the old.

We need to profoundly reflect on the nature of advantages and disadvantages.

This brings me to another set of powerful incidents. In the early 1990s, a predator stalked and brutally killed a teenager. Her father, in all good intention, wanted to set things right – he never wanted another daughter to meet with the same fate. He started a movement to make punishment more and more of a deterrent. You may find this hard to believe – a hungry man stealing a pizza was sentenced to 25 years in prison. California has one of the highest crime rates in the country. Deterrence has not worked. Good intentions do not necessarily lead to good outcomes.

Contrast this with a similar incident – a predator stalked and brutally killed a teenager in Canada. Even before the assailant was caught, the parents of the teenager said they had forgiven the assailant. Their forgiveness was rooted in a deep faith – that everything happens for a purpose. Or as Gandhi famously said, “An eye for an eye would make the world blind.”

Or think of the mother whose young son was killed in an automobile accident. The driver was a teenager and probably inebriated. While the mortally wounded victim and the practically remorseless driver was being taken away in separate vehicles – the mother pleaded – not for her son to be given the best treatment but for the driver to be treated kindly.

During civilization, and in our mindless quest for things that ultimately do not matter, we seem to have forgotten the wonder of forgiveness.

Why are we so intolerant of each other?

Why do we judge others by their religion, their nationality, ethnicity, language, culture, and color of their skin?

Why do we think that we are always right, and others are always wrong?

Why do we fight each other?

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper. In that act of bowing before his disciples, Jesus showed to the world what leadership is all about.

Even as we celebrate and enjoy the festivities of Christmas, perhaps it is time to regain the forgotten quality of forgiveness.

“To err is human, to forgive divine.”


  1. People who were forgiven much would never be the unmerciful servant.


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